Yesterday as the Syrian uprising entered its fifth year, I learnt of the death of my dearest Syrian friend. I am still numb from the news. My gentle giant is gone. Ramzi the Philosopher, his pseudonym in My House In Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution, died not in fighting or in a bomb attack, but from brain cancer. A complex operation to remove the tumour was carried out last September, leaving him unable to speak, read or write. His mother and sisters nursed him in their simple Lattakia flat, interpreting his noises, doing their best to comfort him. But in spite of all their efforts, he never regained the power of speech.
I see a terrible symbolism here. Syria’s silent majority is silent due to pragmatism, due to fear of the repercussions of speaking out, and due to a realisation that no one is listening to their voice anyway. But that my wise and eloquent Ramzi should have had silence imposed upon him is the cruellest of fates. With his death, part of Syria has died, the best part, for Syria has lost one of its noblest sons. His deep soft voice will never be heard again and Syria is the poorer for it.
Maybe his death is for the best, an end to his horrible suffering – displaced from his home three times by fighting between rival factions, Ramzi’s life had become a nightmare. Twice his village home was looted right down to the window frames. He was never political, never took up arms and hated violence. As the eldest son, when his father died some years ago, he took on the role of breadwinner to support his aging mother and his unmarried sisters through his earnings as a professional tourist guide. All who knew him loved him, and he was the guide of choice inside Syria for the top-quality Martin Randall tour operator. His love of his country was so deep it was tangible, and he conveyed this love to all foreign visitors.
When his country descended into civil war and he lost his livelihood, his heart was broken. From having been a healthy hearty man in his forties, he fell victim to cancer. What a waste. He was a silent victim, one of thousands whose deaths will never even appear in the official casualty statistics, yet unquestionably part of the unseen fallout.
All those who have the power to end Syria’s nightmare, wake up! – for the more people like Ramzi die, the harder it will be for the country ever to recover.